Fallen Mountains by Kimi Cunningham Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
”You really never know people, not fully. People are strange. They hold onto things, they have secrets. And trust me we do things we didn’t think we were capable of, good and bad. All of us. People can commit all sorts of atrocities, even normal people, good people. Think of wars. How else could such barbarities occur, if the deep capacity to do evil didn’t exist in every one of us?”
There are all kinds of different secrets. Some of them are merely embarrassing; some of them are compromising to other people, and some of them are secrets that, if revealed, would tear down our lives, timber by timber, brick by brick.
Everyone in Fallen Mountains has a secret, and some harbor whole card decks of secrets. I grew up in a town even smaller than Fallen Mountains, and one of the things I learned very quickly was that secrets are hard to keep in small towns. Everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing. They all have the prodigious memory of elephants, and they remember everything everyone has ever done. It is hard for someone to grow into a new person in a small town with no way to escape any part of his or her past.
”The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” --William Faulkner
Secrets in small towns are handled as carefully as a crate of nitroglycerin. Once a secret is revealed, the blast tends to ripple through a community, flattening lives like a category five tornado.
Some people like the suffocating coziness of a small town, and others can’t leave fast enough. Possum, Red, Chase, Jack, Maggie, and Laney are people who have stayed in Fallen Mountains. It is home and will be home until the day people use the words “rest in peace” when they mention their names.
Now Transom Shultz, best friend of Chase Hardy, left Fallen Mountains, but he has come back. He is a polarizing figure. A man who can make people love him or hate him in equal measure. He takes what he wants and leaves behind what he is done with. Chase has a lifetime of memories shared with Transom, not that he isn’t aware of some of his fallacies, but he forgives him because he loves him like a brother.
He trusts him.
With the death of his Grandfather Jack, Chase has inherited the farm that has been in his family for over two hundred years. The Keeten family farm in Kansas has only been in our possession for 138 years, so I have to tip my hat to a family that can own a piece of land that long. It isn’t easy, as Chase is finding out. The farm is struggling. It was in trouble even before Chase inherited, and now things have become dire. Chase doesn’t want to be the one, in an unbroken string of ancestors, to lose the farm.
When Transom offers to buy the farm, it is like a rumble of thunder in the middle of a drought. Unfortunately, it isn’t until after the paperwork is signed that Chase discovers that their view of the land is different
”’It’s just land, Boss,’ Transom called.
Chase slipped into his boots and turned and looked back. ‘It was never just land to me.’”
Transom starts raping everything that can be sold off the land. Oil is pumped out of the ground by a fracking company. Old growth timber is chainsawed down and hauled off the hillsides with heavy machinery that leaves deep wounds in the earth. It would take up to three generations to regrow that timber that took mere days to destroy. By trying to save the land, Chase has destroyed it.
He has run off before. Things have gotten a little too real in the past, and he has vamoosed to somewhere far away from the trouble he is trying to duck. As Sheriff John “Red” Redifer begins to investigate, he starts to realize that this time might be different, and as much as he would like Transom’s disappearance to be connected to the oil or timber people, he has a suspicion that it might have something to do with one of his Fallen Mountains people.
It could all come back to some of those secrets. Red has his own secret, and this one particular secret is starting to eat him alive. Laney, best friends with Chase and Transom, has a secret that makes her as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof anytime someone mentions Transom. Possum has a secret that is “tied up” somehow with Red and Transom.
Red doesn’t want to know anymore secrets. The more secrets he discovers, the more exposed his own secret becomes.
Where is Transom Shultz?
I was nervous for everyone in this novel. I did not want anyone’s secrets revealed, and as the investigation proceeds, the pressure on everyone to tell what they know increases exponentially. I believe in carrying your own water, and these people have toted it through rivers and over dales. Everyone has motive, and everyone knows something that might have bearing on the case. The thing of it is, at the end of the day, does anyone in Fallen Mountains really want to know what happened to Transom Shultz? What will be the cost?
If I were to put my finger on one thing that Kimi Cunningham Grant is really good at, I’d say it has to be the psychological perceptions she brings to each of her characters. Their motivations, their decisions, their thought processes all ring true. If we cast Transom as the villain, I still can’t completely despise him because Grant gives me insight into the shards of his past that shaped him as a human being. The vulnerability of her characters is revealed to us, piece by piece until the mosaic of their individual puzzles start to resemble the soul of Fallen Mountains. By the end of the book, we know these people better than we know some of our friends, and we can’t help but root for every one of them to find some way to be happy.
I asked Kimi Cunningham Grant if she would answer a few questions, and she graciously said yes!
Jeffrey D. Keeten:I grew up in a small farming town in Kansas, so the small town feel of Fallen Mountains, Pennsylvania, felt very familiar to me. What motivated you to set your first novel in a small town?
Kimi Cunningham Grant:When the idea for this book first came to me, I was walking on public land, and I came across a sign stating that it was going to be developed. Chase was the first character that came to me. I knew I wanted to explore the issue of feeling deeply connected to land, and a small town farmer felt like the right place to start.
Kimi Cunningham Grant
JDK:It felt to me like there were bits of Kimi Grant in most of the characters of this novel. Who did you identify with the most as you were writing this novel?
KCG:This is something I love thinking about! How our lives—who we know, what we read, where we go—shape a text. I think there are always parts of the author in everything she writes; it’s impossible to separate who I am from what I write. Related to that, of course, is my belief that readers shape the text, too. For instance, you’ll most likely have a different reading of this novel than say, a twenty-three year old British woman. You’ve read different things; you’ve experienced different things; you likely “read” the world (and texts) differently. (See T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” if you want to tumble deeper into the rabbit hole of questions of writing, reading, and meaning!)
But I digress. None of the characters in this novel are autobiographical. As a parent, I identified with Red’s desire to protect his family. As someone who loves the natural world, I identified with Chase. I sympathized with Possum and really enjoyed developing him. The bits of Kimi Grant in these characters are more things like… my husband is a biologist who has spent years researching the effects of fracking on Pennsylvania streams, and my sons have a red wagon, and I’ve always been curious about trapping.
JDK:The book is divided into Before and After chapters. Did you write the book following the linear time and then mix the chapters, or did you write the book in the way it is published, with the two timelines intermixed by writing a chapter on one time line and then the other?
KCG:Early drafts were written linearly, but I realized that if I wanted the central mystery to be “What happened to Transom Shultz?” I couldn’t have him disappear on page 200! It needed to happen much earlier. I eventually settled on the Before and After structure, but honestly, the structure was hands-down the hardest part of writing this novel. I kept reading books in this genre to learn how successful authors handled mysteries, but it took me a long time to get it right.
JDK:I read somewhere that you write before your family wakes up in the morning. The challenge for most writers is actually finding uninterrupted time to focus entirely on what they are writing. I frequently find myself suddenly struck by a brilliant little nugget when I'm trapped in a social circumstance and unable to break away to flush out the idea. Would you share how you have structured your time for writing and how you deal with inspiration at the most “inconvenient" times?
KCG:You’re right. I do write mostly in the morning, before my family wakes up. I’m a homeschooling mom, so my kids are with me all day, every day. They like to talk to me A LOT, which is great, but it also makes it almost impossible to concentrate during the twelve hours that I’m with them each day. As far as actual writing, early morning is what works for me. I do get quiet windows here and there, and I try to make the most of them. I think about my writing a lot when I’m in the woods, and as a family, we try to be there a lot. So, sometimes I’m envisioning a scene or tweaking aspects of a character while the kids are bouldering or running down the trail. I also drive in silence if I’m alone, and I get some good mental work done then, too.
JDK:This is a novel of secrets and their impacts on those that hold those secrets and those who would have benefited from or been adversely affected by them. I enjoyed the fact that, in the course of the novel, you showed all the various ways secrets impact those who hold them and those who reveal them. How do you personally feel about secrets? The saying is that honesty is always the best policy, but is it really?
KCG:The novel IS about secrets, isn’t it? I never intended for it to be so much about secrets as it is about the simple premise that people are complicated. “Good” people can do bad things, and “bad” people can do good things. When I first began writing this, I mostly wanted to explore whether even very “good” people can, under certain tensions and in certain situations, do things they swore they’d never do. The secrets tumbled in and ended up becoming central to the book.
JDK:Fallen Mountains is slated to be published in March 2019, but what else do you have in the hopper? Another novel, I hope? I once read that Stephen King always has three completed manuscripts in his vault, so when the publisher needs the next one, he just fetches one to send them. So how full is your vault? :-)
KCG:I DO have another novel in the hopper! I’ve sent it off to my agent, Amy Cloughley, who is wonderful, and who will help me iron out any lingering problems. I have two other ideas for novels that aren’t fully fleshed out yet. One is started; one isn’t.
I want to thank Kimi Cunningham Grant and Amberjack Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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